BONO — no stranger to the Irish grá for begrudgery — once summed up the concept neatly.
“In the U.S, you look at the guy who lives in the mansion on the hill and think, one day, if I work really hard, I could live in that mansion. In Ireland, people go, ‘One day, I’m going to get that bastard’.”
Bono aside, one of the most popular targets for this brand of Irish begrudgery is politicians.
True, few countries, aside from North Korea, think their leaders deserve a daily round of applause, but here the cynicism is almost all-pervading.
Sit on any barstool in the country, and when a politician’s face appears on the news, the begrudgery is tangible.
“A complete boll*x.”
Fierce nods of heads all round.
And so on.
It’s a shame, then, that most pubs remained closed this week, as it would have been interesting to see how the barflies reacted to the announcement that Government ministers were taking a 10% pay cut.
Probably with a scoff, and a dismissive line about it being “only 10%”, and “they’re still on too much”.
A few would assuredly have pointed out the new Taoiseach Micheál Martin was still being paid more than his predecessor Leo Varadkar, as ministers in the past two governments waived pay restoration they were due under the public service pay agreement. The latest pay cuts didn’t take account of that waiver.
That sleight of hand aside, few could quibble that this was an important gesture at a time when many are fearful for their jobs and livelihoods. Credit where credit is due.
True, Mr Martin is still on €186,831 after his €20,759 pay cut, and he won’t be watching his pennies like the rest of us as this Covid era looks ike extending into at least another year.
Then again, the leader of our country of five million people has a bigger job on his plate than most.
We ask — nay, demand — that he fix our housing and health crises, ensure there are jobs for all in a pandemic, and steer us through the choppy waters of Brexit. It’s a tough and usually thankless task, with unfeasibly long hours and piles of stress.
How much do the begrudgers think our Taoiseach should be earning for that little lot?
Rather than reducing their salaries, I would prefer to see action to cut out many of the perks our TDs and ministers receive, such as for transport and housing.
And don’t get me started on the vast salary our President is entitled to trouser — €325,507, for a job far less strenuous.
Even though the current incumbent settles for €249,000, it’s still far more than the Taoiseach.
Indeed, Mr Martin’s wage of €186,831 is quite frugal compared to other heads of state.
The Australian Prime Minister receives a whopping €327,000, while the Canadian guy with the fancy socks gets €221,000. Denmark has a similar population to Ireland and its leader is on €213,000, while the Prime Minister of Iceland — a nation of just 365,000 souls — takes €206,000.
In recent weeks, much was made of the decision by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ahern to take a pay cut, but she is still on a hefty €300,000 a year — and her country’s population is the same as Ireland’s, while she is only taking the cut for six months.
Wonder if they do begrudgery in New Zealand...
Sure, there are some outliers in the salary scales of heads of state — the Prime Minister of Singapore rakes in almost €2million a year, while the Chinese Prime Minister somehow manages on a salary of just €18,7000.
But, on the whole, and contrary to popular opinion, our top politicians aren’t high earners.
One argument often given for awarding politicians large salaries is that otherwise they would be tempted to stick their hands in the till or take a bribe.
I always find that a depressing comment, which says more about the person making it than the politicians he is seeking to slander.
A far better argument is one that insists we want some of our nation’s brightest and best brains leading us, and if the rewards aren’t reasonable, many will just head into the world of commerce and business instead.
Compare Simon Coveney and his brother, Patrick, to give one example.
The former has spent several years as deputy leader of his country and his party, as well as being a Cork TD. He has played a key role in Brexit negotiations.
Few would doubt he has been a good civil servant for his country. Overall, he has surely done the State much service.
Patrick, meanwhile, is CEO of Greencore and a recent BBC profile dubbed him “the man who sells 700 million sandwiches a year”.
The latter’s salary is counted in the millions, while Simon’s was this week pared back to €158,000.
Hey, that’s capitalism, folks — and Simon certainly isn’t in the ha-penny place. Still, if you were to offer our Cabinet ministers the average wage of €40,000, as some Communist countries believe is right, then I can only imagine the brain drain that would ensue.
You pay peanuts to politicians, you get monkeys.
In the meantime, does anyone know how I apply for the job of Prime Minister of Singapore?
ONE Minister who will certainly be earning their corn in the months ahead is Catherine Martin.
I had to do a double take — no, six takes — when I saw the length of her portfolio when the Cabinet was announced.
The Green Party TD is Minister for — deep breath — Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht.
Given that, owing to Covid-19 and a range of other factors, at least five of these areas present mammoth challenges and are facing almost existential threats to their very being, you have to wonder why the responsibilities couldn’t have been spread out a little more.
The traditional news media are facing a make-or-break era, while the arts, sports and cultural institutions are having to work out how to raise revenue without any spectators or visitors.
Tourism, too, is in the midst of a Covid crisis that alone should have the eyes of a sole minister.
Even the Gaeltacht regions are facing a Covid challenge, as they try to manage without revenue-raising summer camps.
It will be interesting to see how Minister Martin copes with her load... I sincerely hope she has a degree in juggling.